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Rantanen Scores Gorgeous First NHL Goal

Avalanche defeats Jets in overtime

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

Mikko Rantanen's first NHL goal was worth the wait, and his shot was worth the price of admission.

The Colorado Avalanche's 20-year-old rookie netted his first tally of his career 1:03 into the second period after receiving the puck from Erik Johnson and firing a blistering wrist shot from the right circle. The puck sailed over Winnipeg Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson's left shoulder and into the twine, setting off a celebration in the right corner with Rantanen and his teammates.

Rantanen's first marker came on the power play, opening the scoring Friday night in a contest that Colorado won 3-2 in overtime at Pepsi Center.

Video: WPG@COL: Rantanen roofs laser PPG for first NHL goal

"It was probably a little bit more lucky than skill, but it's good to get the first goal and a big two points," said the Nousiainen, Finland, native.

While Rantanen might have played off the milestone like it was a fortunate shot, his coach disagreed.

"I think seeing him more and more, he's a pass first guy, but he has a great shot," Avs bench boss Jared Bednar said. "He was looking around for a pass, looking around for a pass and then takes a step and [makes a] great shot from the short side."

Rantanen's goal has been a long time coming. He's had several good chances since he was recalled from the San Antonio Rampage on Oct. 24, but the puck just didn't seem to be bouncing in his favor.

When the black rubber biscuit finally did cross the goal line, Rantanen said it came with both excitement and a little relief.

"I've had a lot of chances in the games that I've played this season," he said. "It's good to get the first one."

His teammates might have been more excited for him than he was.

"It's awesome, especially a nice goal like that. He has a great shot," said veteran forward Rene Bourque. "He's been snakebit. He's been making some great plays and getting a lot of opportunities to put the puck in the net. It's just nice to see one go in for him, and I'm sure now they'll come in bunches."

And for him to score the way he did on a snipe of shot--instead of a redirection or ricochet --was just icing on the celebration.

"That was a little nicer, mine was a rebound," reflected Bourque on his own first goal before laughing. "[His] was a wrister top shelf."

Friday's contest was Rantanen's eighth of the season and 17th of his NHL career. He played in nine contests a year ago after being selected 10th overall by the Avalanche at the 2015 draft.

Video: Mikko Rantanen talks about his first goal

Rantanen was pegged to begin this year with Colorado, but an injury during a Rookie Showcase contest against the San Jose Sharks on Sept. 17 forced him to miss the team's entire training camp and preseason slate. He began the season in the American Hockey League with the Rampage before returning to the NHL two weeks ago, making his season debut on Oct. 28 against the same Jets team.

Bednar has given Rantanen the best chance to succeed since his call up, playing him on the top line with skilled forwards Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon. Rantanen entered the game with 16 shots on goal and averaging 17:55 of ice time, a big increase after having a total of nine shots while playing 8:57 per game a year ago.

"I'm feeling good," Rantanen said of his recent play. "I'm feeling better and better every game and getting more confident and just get the puck more. I feel good, and we just have to keep it going now."

Now that the first one is out of the way, the Avalanche is hoping for many more markers in the young player's future.

The team could certainly use it after entering Friday with just five tallies in its previous five games.

"Big goal for him; I'm hoping that it will open the gates for him a little bit, gain a little confidence," Bednar said. "MacKinnon scored last game. He scored this game. If we can get a few more shots for us in those areas and find a way to increase our shooting percentage--it's way down there right now. So it's a matter of time. If we keep putting up 28-30 shots a game, we should be scoring more than we have."

DUCHENE UPDATE

Avalanche forward Matt Duchene didn't finish Friday's contest after being hit in the head in the second period.

Duchene appeared to be injured midway through the middle period but was able to finish the stanza, taking four shifts in the final five minutes. However, he did not play at all in the third.

Bednar didn't have any details about the extent of the injury after the game.

"I have no idea. I haven't talked to him since after the game," Bednar said. "I know he went off. In the intermission, they said they're going to take a look at him and then I got word on the bench that he wasn't coming back. At that point, I don't usually have conversations about what is going on. He is out for the rest of the night."

Duchene is the Avalanche's leading scorer with six goals and 11 points in 13 games this season.

"I'm hoping he is going to be back, but again I'm going to have a talk with them and see what the plan is for him moving forward," Bednar said. "He's played real well for us. He's been the driving force for the bulk of our offense this season."

Video: Coach Bednar's postgame press conference

LINEUP NOTES

Defenseman Eric Gelinas was back in the Avalanche lineup after being a healthy scratch for the past four games. He replaced Patrick Wiercioch, who was scratched for the first time this season.

Gelinas last played Nov. 1 against the Nashville Predators. He was paired on defense with Francois Beauchemin on Friday.

Forward Blake Comeau was the only other scratch for Colorado, missing his third-straight contest with a nagging groin injury. However, there was a good sign earlier in the day as Comeau took part in the team's morning skate.

Coach Jared Bednar made one minor tweak to his forward combinations for the game, having Rene Bourque and Jarome Iginla switch spots at right wing in the top nine. Bourque played with Carl Soderberg and Gabriel Landeskog, while Iginla lined up with Mikhail Grigorenko and Andreas Martinsen.

According to Bednar, the move was aimed at adding a little more physicality to the Soderberg-centered group and reward Bourque for his recent play.

Bourque made his coach look smart with the move as he had two goals in the game. He notched his third of the season in the second period on an easy tap-in at the left side of the crease to give Colorado a 2-0 lead, and he then got credit for the game-winner in overtime after a Jets player scored in his own net.

AVALANCHE HONORS VETERANS

The Avalanche celebrated and honored those that served at its Veterans Appreciation Night on Friday.

Prior to the game, the organization held a special ceremony honoring nine military veterans that served in the various conflicts the U.S. has been in over the past 70-plus years.

Lonnie Wright, a World War II veteran and a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attacks, dropped the puck in a ceremonial faceoff between Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog and Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler.

Wright, 98, is the great uncle of Scott Woodward, the Avalanche's assistant athletic trainer/physical therapist.

Video: WPG@COL: Veterans Appreciation Night in Colorado

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